Geek & Sundry Painters Guild is our show where host Will Friedle goes on a journey to learn how to paint miniatures. Last season, he learned basic techniques, and in season 2, premiering January 8th, he’ll be improving his miniature painting skills as guests join him and teach him new tips and techniques. Join his expedition to become a better miniature painter exclusively on Alpha.
The new year is a great time to resolve to improve oneself or just get to the things you’ve always wanted to do (but never gave yourself time for). I’ve always advocated for the hobby of miniature painting as a great outlet for both personal well-being (as it’s a hobby that lets you invest time in yourself and things that interest you) as well as a way to more deeply engage with games, fandoms, and universes that you love.
Whether you’re just getting your feet wet in the hobby, or you’re a longtime painter with pots of paint aplenty, there’s one constant that you need to be doing to continue to grow as a miniature painter: paint regularly and consistently. Regularly painting not only helps develop the muscles that are needed for the fine motor control you need when painting minis (and strengthening them will improve both brush control and the speed at which you can paint) but also helps develop the intuitive sense of how paint will look on the model, since working consistently with paint on a model hands-on gives you a knowledge and sense of model and paint interaction you just can’t learn any other way.
There are a few ways to organize yourself to give yourself a head start when it comes to sitting down and putting paint on minis. The key is organization.
GET TO THE TABLE BY ORGANIZING YOUR SUPPLIES
So often, the biggest hurdle to painting is arduous setup. If you never get to the table to practice your hobby, the battle to improve as a hobbyist is forfeit. Make it easier for yourself to sit down and paint with a kit and setup that takes less than five minutes to go from thinking about painting to putting a brush on a model. There’s a reason why people who paint a lot have dedicated painting spaces: it minimizes setup and makes it easier to get painting. You do not, however, need to have a dedicated painting space – a little organization can turn any table into a painting space – I currently use my dining table as a gaming table, a painting table, and occasionally, a place to eat food.
Start by assembling a painting kit with all the things you need to paint. I keep my most commonly-used paints in one bin, and my painting supplies (brushes, palettes, and other accessories) in another container. I use pullout drawers now (which also makes putting my kit away easy) but I’ve used large Tupperware-style containers and toolboxes in the past as well – using the containers and compartments to hold everything in a single place is really helpful. If you know your painting area has terrible lighting, get yourself a desk (or portable) lamp you can keep with your painting kit, so you don’t have to worry about painting at the right time of day.
When it’s paint-o’clock, all I need to do is grab my minis, my paint kit, and lay it out, grab a paper towel and fill my water jar, I’m sitting down to paint in sixty seconds.
COMMIT TO PAINTING BY ORGANIZING YOUR TIME
Getting to the painting table is a lot like getting to the gym: building a habit is key to consistency. Pick a night of the week (or three) where you know you can sit down and paint, commitment-free. If there’s a particular podcast you like that releases on a certain day of the week, or a stream that you regularly tune into, or a show you watch regularly, use those specific calendar events to help shape your painting schedule.
If blocking off several hours on a single night every week is a challenge, focus instead on smaller 15-20 minute windows instead. On a single night, it might be painting a single colour on a small batch of miniatures, or putting down a solid basecoat and wash on a single figure. Over the course of seven days, those small windows of painting can add up to a couple of hours of progress on a project every week. It’s nice to give yourself 20 minutes every day to do something you enjoy, and when you’ve minimized the setup for it, committing to short sessions is easy (and might also save you from getting sore from hours of poor painting posture.)
Additionally, you can invite family or friends to join in on a regular painting session with you. (Family painting time is a weekly event in my home.) Just like working out in a group, painting with others is motivating (you help each other and hold each other to the commitment). Even if you can’t find friends locally to drop by and paint minis together, there are friendly and welcoming online communities that have regular online hangouts where people can jump in and paint together, like The Hobby Hangout.
SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS BY ORGANIZING YOUR EXPECTATIONS
When it comes to painting miniatures, your attitude is one of the most influential aspects of seeing improvement in your painting skills. Knowing the difference between healthy, positive expectations, which will help keep you motivated, and expectations that set you up for disappointment.
Deadlines for project completion that are reasonable make for great goals – they’ll help you better commit to a regular painting habit, and they’ll ensure that you don’t fixate on a single element or a single figure (perfection is the enemy of progress, after all). Working to complete a project for a specific gaming event is a great way to harness a deadline to find motivation. Getting paint on the miniature, and finishing it to a place where you can be proud of it on the table, is the goal when you work to a deadline, no matter how messy the path is along the way.
Give yourself permission to try new a technique (or better execute one you’ve been using) and make your goal to practice that technique on a project. Give yourself the space and permission to learn and make mistakes: it’s ok if you’re just not getting it right. Sometimes you might need a different approach, a different brush, a different paint, or even a different miniature (because the sculpt of the miniature isn’t right for what you’re looking to accomplish). That’s ok. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and don’t worry if some experiments fail. Remember: it’s just paint. You can go back and fix it later.
And for goodness sake, never measure your progress or success by comparing your accomplishments to others. It’s unhealthy. I can say for certain that no matter where you are in your painting journey, there is someone better, faster and more accomplished than you out there, just as there is someone out there that you are better, faster and more accomplished than. Focusing on what others are doing is a sure path to self-defeat. Instead, look at your own journey. One of the things I’ve done is keep pictures of some of the first miniatures I’ve ever painted to remind myself how far I’ve come as a hobbyist. It helps me keep perspective on what I’m learning, what I’m doing well, and how far I’ve come, and it’s something that I use to keep myself motivated.
What are some tips you use to help improve your hobby skills? Tell us in the comments! And don’t forget to tune into Alpha starting on Monday, January 8th for the new season of Geek & Sundry Painters Guild! You can get a free 30-day trial and catch up on the first season right now.
Want more miniature painting tips?
- Need motivation to paint mins? Here are 5 must-have pieces of advice.
- Check out these must-have mini painting supplies from cosmetics aisle.
- Learn how to paint convincing rust effects on your miniatures and terrain.
Image Credits: Teri Litorco (miniature in title image painted by Mike Davy)
Teri Litorco is a tabletop game fangirl who makes YouTube videos about painting minis and playing miniature wargames/boardgames. She’s also the author of The Civilized Guide to Tabletop Gaming. She’d love to see pics of your #HappyLittleMinis – send them her way on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.